Editorial: Legislators must support the port
Thursday, January 4, 2018
Posted by: Ashley McLeod
The Virginia Maritime Association is pleased to share the following editorial published in the January 4,2018 edition of the Virginian-Pilot, which succinctly makes the case for the bi-partisan support that will be required for the Wider, Deeper, Safer navigation channels needed for the economic well-being of Hampton Roads and our Commonwealth.
Building the support and securing the funding needed to expedite the widening and deepening of our port's channels continues to be VMA's first priority.
Editorial: Legislators must support the port
By The Virginian-Pilot Editorial Board
The Virginia General Assembly will begin its 2018 session next Wednesday with a lot of uncertainty about how it will conduct business.
If Democrat Shelly Simonds wins the disputed 94th District race, the House will be split 50-50 among Republicans and Democrats, creating a divided body that could struggle to operate effectively. Even if Republicans end up with a 51-49 majority, they still will need to work in partnership with Democrats in the House and Senate, and Gov.-elect Ralph Northam, to pass major legislation.
The commonwealth cannot afford for the legislative process to get bogged down amid partisan disputes. There are too many important issues and needs to be addressed. Members of both parties should be seeking now to identify common areas of interest and bipartisan initiatives that can help Virginia grow and prosper.
One such priority is supporting the Port of Virginia and its goal to widen and deepen the main channels leading into the port, which would create more room for the world’s largest container ships to navigate.
Just last year, the port welcomed the CGA CGM John Adams and CGA CGM Theodore Roosevelt, two enormous ships capable of carrying more than 14,000 containers. An expanded Panama Canal has made it easier for these huge ships to transport cargo between the East Coast of the United States and Asia and other areas, so their sightings will become more common at the Port of Virginia.
And even larger container ships are being built each year. Fifteen ships built in 2017 can carry more than 20,000 containers each, a size that seemed impossible a few decades ago.
The recent growth in container ships is forcing major ports in the United States and elsewhere to increase the depths of their channels to accommodate the larger and wider ships. Ports in Savannah and Charleston already have similar projects under way.
The Port of Virginia has long had the advantage of being the deepest port on the East Coast, but the entrance to Charleston’s harbor will be dredged to 54 feet, which would make it larger than Virginia’s – unless something is done.
Virginia’s project, which would deepen the main shipping channels to at least 55 feet and widen them to 1,200 feet, is expected to cost more than $320 million and would be paid for with a combination of federal and state money. Local lawmakers have expressed support for the project and will be counted on to lead the efforts in Richmond to obtain the needed state funding.
Sometimes lawmakers in other parts of Virginia don’t understand how vital the port is to the economy of the entire commonwealth. Though the port is in Hampton Roads, the tentacles of its operations reach across Virginia and other states through train, truck and barge deliveries that carry finished products, parts and supplies to thousands of locations.
The 2017 State of the Region report by economists at the Strome College of Business at Old Dominion University includes this observation: “The Port has become one of the region’s more productive economic engines and a variety of studies attribute tens of thousands of jobs throughout Virginia to its activities.”
But the report also includes a warning: “Reality is that the Port (and Hampton Roads) operates in a highly competitive economic world that does not stand still. More than most institutions in our region, the Port stands on the front lines of the competition. Either we move forward with the Port, or we will soon find ourselves moving backward.”
For the port to remain competitive, Virginia’s lawmakers on the federal, state and local levels must provide the funding and other assistance it requires to grow and meet the current and future needs of the world economy.
That’s something even a divided General Assembly should agree on.